Two key House Democrats yesterday were making sounds of opposition to the tenative natural gas pricing bill that President Carter badly wants approved as the next to last part of his energy package.
Rep. James Corman (D-Calif.) said he will not vote in the House-Senate conference for the plan to remove price controls from natural gas by 1985 until there is a conference agreement on energy taxes including a version of Carter's proposed tax on domestic crude oil and on industrial use of oil and gas.
Rep. Henry Reuss (D-Wis.) said he is inclined to vote against the gas settlement for the opposite reason that it might be a steppingstone toward enactment of the domestic crude oil tax which he opposes. Both also fear the settlement would give to much to the oil-gas industry.
Meanwhile, Carter at his news conference hailed what he hoped was a gas settlement last Friday between a negotiating team of some members of the House-Senate conference that has been trying since last fall to agree on an energy bill.
Carter said he hopes and expects Congress to act his complete package including taxes, and called it too early to talk about administrative action such as import fees on foreign oil as a substitute for the tax on domestic oil. Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.) and others say the tax is dead. Last month when the 25 House conferees voted 13 to 12 in favor of a gas proposal less generous to the industry, Reuss and Corman voted for it. If both switched their vote to no, the administration would have to pick up the vote of Rep. Joe D. Waggonner (D-La.), an industry supporter who said he hasn't made up his mind, and at least one Republican to form a new majority among House confrees.
After Corman and others expressed the view that the conference gas vote should wait for an agreement on taxes, Rep. Thomas Ashley (D-Ohio), the House Democratic leadership's representative on the conference, said: "We have what I hope is a temporary problem." A meeting of the full conference scheduled for today to vote on the gas agreement has been postponed.
Corman's insistence on holding up a gas vote until there is a tax agreement could pose a big problem because Long insisted last fall that the tax part of the energy bill be held up until there was a gas agreement.
Corman told reporters he didn't think there couldbe a good energy bill without a tax on domestic crude oil and industrial use of oil and natural gas. "I plan to hold out for a tax package that reasonably resembles the House bill before I vote on the gas issue," he said.
The energy conferees have a most difficult task because while the House vote for Carter's energy taxes and his plan to continue price controls on gas, the Senate voted to deregulate new gas, rejected the domestic oil tax and voted only a part of the industrial use tax.
Reuss feels the nation desperately needs an energy bill as a simbol to bolster the dollar abroad. He said he might be induced to vote for the gas plant if he were assured it would speed enactment of an energy bill without the domestic crude oil tax.